Springfield area students explore jobs with GO CAPS

andrea morrowJordan Hill didn’t know what the GO CAPS program was until his grandmother sent him an article she found. But then he knew right away that he wanted to be a part of the Springfield-region program when it started.

“I went to my counselors, and they didn’t know much about the program yet but promised me I’d be first on the list,” Hill said.

GO CAPS (Greater Ozarks Centers for Advanced Professional Studies) is a consortium of 13 school districts in the Springfield region that is engaging students while they are still in their high school years to give them hands-on experience in the field of their choosing before they graduate. Hill, entering his senior year of high school, completed the GO CAPS 2015-2016 program in the manufacturing and engineering strand.

Juniors and seniors who participate in GO CAPS are given the opportunity to job-shadow and get hands-on experience in tracts including business and entrepreneurship, engineering and manufacturing, medicine and health care, and technology solutions. This program is offered as a dual-credit option, meaning students can receive both high school and optional college credit for participating, and it connects students to potential careers so that they can become better consumers of their education.

“I don’t like the traditional classroom experience,” Hill said. “I have always been technically minded, and I liked the hands-on aspect of going to the businesses and spending time really learning about audio engineering.”

The ideal GO CAPS student exhibits a passion for a particular field of study and a desire to learn, explained Lindsay Haymes, executive director of the program. “Our focus is not on admission requirements or grades,” Haymes said. “We want to attract students who can explain to us why they are excited about this program or the field they want to enter after high school and can demonstrate their desire to learn. Then we can connect them with businesses and resources to make that happen.”

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The program consists of a 2½-hour session at the beginning or end of the school day in which students work directly with professionals in the field of their choice. Before beginning the program, all students have to take “Professionalism Bootcamp,” where they learn the rules, dress codes and expectations of the companies where they will be working.

“We had students wanting to wear scrubs for the health care sessions, but we are learning that many in the medical profession are transitioning to business casual rather than scrubs. Our students wear business casual attire to be on par with this trend and to stand out as young professionals in the field,” Haymes said. “This is just one example of preparing them for what it’s like in the real world working in these professions.”

The Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce has led the way in cultivating the collaboration among about 170 participating companies and 10 school districts. “CAPS just doesn’t work without businesses,” Haymes said. The participating companies include CoxHealth, Mercy and SRC, which houses the engineering and manufacturing strand.

Students are also evaluated on a monthly or quarterly basis in the same manner they would be if they were employees of the businesses.

So far, nearly 120 students have completed the program, which was started in Springfield in August 2015. Goals for the future are to grow the program and double the number of businesses and students that are involved each year.

Across the state, the Affton School District also began its CAPS program in August 2015 and had 23 seniors from Affton High School participate. Eleven completed the health care strand; seven, engineering; and five, business.

“The greatest part of this program is seeing how the kids grow and mature and become young adults before your eyes,” said Travis Bracht, assistant superintendent of Affton schools. “They gain a level of professionalism from being around these professionals, and it’s awesome to see.

Affton also conducts a one-day boot camp to give students an overall perspective of the program and to prepare them for how it is different from a traditional classroom setting.

“This program helps the students to refine what they want to do,” Bracht said. “They can rule out certain jobs or narrow in on a certain job within the field of their choice. This is also helping them grow their networks to get advice and help in the future. I’d love to see one of our students end up with a career working for one of the businesses we partner with.”

For the 2016-2017 school year, Affton will be partnering with Bayless, Mehlville and Oakville high schools, and they hope to add a technology strand for students to choose from.

The group will also be hosting a “Hackathon” in September to bring together CAPS programs from across Missouri and other states. The “Hackathon” is a competition in which students will use critical thinking, research and creative skills to solve a social, economic or other type of problem.

“One example is giving the students the problem of global hunger and how are we going to be able to grow enough food to feed the billions of people on Earth,” Bracht said. “They will have to use their unique skills and work as a group to come up with a solution to the problem.”

Dr. John Jungmann, Springfield Public Schools superintendent, is pleased that the collaborative efforts of business and education are resulting in more engaging, relevant and personalized learning opportunities for students. He saw the benefits of those efforts when he was superintendent of Liberty Public Schools and worked with the Northland CAPS program, which consisted of seven school districts. He was excited to get the program up and running in the Springfield area.

“I love hearing from the students about the impact this has had on them and the ability they now have to ‘test-drive’ careers,” Jungmann said. “We are helping prepare them to meet the ever-changing demands of the workforce and advanced education.”

“The Chamber of Commerce is a key partner in helping us do that,” Jungmann said. “GO CAPS is the largest group of school districts to unify and work together to offer this program, and it’s been a great success.”

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All CAPS programs strive to have students take the skills they have learned and come back home to work with businesses in the region or state.

“We want to track the students and see if they come back to the area to work, which is ultimately what we would love to see,” Haymes said.

When Jordan Hill graduates in December, he hopes to attend Belmont University and major in audio engineering and worship leadership because of his involvement in his church.

“I don’t know exactly what I want to do, and I don’t know if I’ll end up in Nashville or Springfield or even if I’ll end up recording Christian music, but I got a lot out of this program,” he said. “To any student interested, you get out of it what you put into it. If you put in the hard work, you will absolutely benefit from the program.”

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